Live from New York!
(1/2010) I recently accompanied Commissioners Gardner and Gray along with County staff on a visit to the bond rating agencies in New York City. This is the story of that trip. When the County borrows money for the purpose of completing capital projects (school renovations, water and sewer projects,
roads, etc.) it issues bonds (debt), much like a mortgage on a home. Bond rating agencies give the County a score, usually in the form of AAA, AAa, AA1, AA2 and so on. Each agency has their own unique identifier. The better the rating, much like a credit score, the lower the interest rate the County pays for the
debt it issues. Bonds are paid back over a twenty year period.
The agencies we visited were Fitch Ratings, Standard & Poor's, and Moody's Investors Service (Moody's). The other participants were: John Kroll, Director of Finance; Richard Duthoy, Deputy Director of Finance; Michael Marschner, Director of Utilities and Solid Waste; Laurie Boyer, Director
of the Office of Economic Development, and Barry Stanton, Assistant County Manager. We were joined by Sam Ketterman of Davenport & Company, the County's financial advisor.
We arrived in New York via the Acela Express from Baltimore to New York's Penn Station (underneath Madison Square Garden in mid-town Manhattan) on a Wednesday afternoon and made our way downtown to the Financial District where our hotel was located). While a group dinner was planned,
Commissioner Gray and I were lucky enough to get two tickets to "Jersey Boys" . A tremendous show and I highly recommend seeing it if you ever get the opportunity.
Presentations generally lasted two hours, sometimes a little longer and we began with Fitch Ratings on Thursday morning. Commissioner Gardner made general comments about the condition of the County and was followed by detailed presentations by Messrs. Duthoy, Kroll, Marschner and finished by
Ms. Boyer. Following the presentations, the analysts would ask us questions pertaining to what they had just heard or didn't hear. After Fitch Ratings and lunch, we headed over to Standard & Poor's and the process repeated itself.
A bitterly cold and blustery night had the whole group walking about ½ mile to dinner along the East River with The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in view. Friday morning we travelled a short distance to Moody's. This was by far the most emotional visit for me. Moody's is located at 7
World Trade Center, immediately next to Ground Zero. I have not been to New York since the Twin Towers were fallen. Hearing about Ground Zero and seeing video images on television does not in any way convey the horror of what you see. Despite my attempts to focus on our presentation my thoughts kept going back to
the deaths that occurred right next door to me. From the twentieth floor looking down on workers rebuilding from the ground up was a sobering experience.
After we finished with Moody's we loaded up and headed back to Penn Station for the train ride home. The last time I took a train ride (other than Walkersville's Ghost Train) was in 1983 when I joined the Navy. The Acela Express is a great way to get into New York. The ride up was three
hours and only two and a half hours back into Baltimore. It sure beats driving!
We asked all three bond rating agencies if they could let us know the status of our "score" by December 22nd. The bond sale is scheduled for January 5, 2010. The most important message I can give you, citizens of Frederick County, is that your County government is fiscally responsible and
well managed. We have so much to be proud of, including unemployment rates lower than the State and well below the national average; the lowest property tax rate of our five peer counties (Washington, Howard, Carroll, Charles and Harford); a zero percent business property tax rate on everything except power
stations; and relative to population growth tremendous job growth (since 1970 the population has increased 163% and job growth has grown 250%).
In addition, compared to the state average of 53%, 60% of Frederick County residents work in the County where they live. By keeping our taxes low we remain a great place to do business, something very important to folks on Wall Street who have influence on how much we pay when we borrow
As I have been for the past three years I remain proud to represent Frederick County as one of your County Commissioners. These are difficult financial times and some of you reading this may be experiencing hard times. I'm sorry if you are. When you're down it's easy to become cynical. When
I watch the national news and the money being spent I become cynical as well. At the local level we simply don't have the ability to print money and make future generations pay for today's follies. I left New York even more convinced Frederick County is a wonderful place to call home.
I hope all of you have a happy and healthy and rewarding 2010. As of yet I remain undecided about my plans. I announced back in January (2009) that I would be a candidate for the House of Delegates in District 3B (currently held by Rick Weldon). The prospect of new Commissioners undoing the
Waste to Energy decision by this Board has me reconsidering my announced run for the House of Delegates. It may sound like a cliché, but it is truly an honor to represent you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.
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